December 17, 2014

24hrs and a Wombat

Six weeks ago the Baum family enjoyed a fast and successful weekend at the Bright 24hr where our team brought home first place in the mixed team of 4 category and 3rd place in the overall standings (only bested by two teams of 6 blokes).  The weather was warm, the track was dry and laps were fast.  Fast forward to mid last week and Ryan, Darren and I were exchanging phone calls and messages planning for another weekend of 24hr racing.  The tone was a little different though… Mt Macedon (near the race) had just received 26mm of rain with a weekend forecast of lots more, so we scrambled to shift from lean fast summer tyres to something more suitable for the impending mud-fest.  Darren confessed that he doesn’t really own a rain coat and it never rains in the You Yangs – the trails local to the factory.

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Ryan and I had entered the gentlemanly 6+6hr pairs category as TheMoodyLabrador (Ryan is Moody … which means yes, I am the Labrador) and Darren had some unfinished business after being defeated by Canberra and this same race last year, so he he lined up in the 24hr Solo Elite category.  We all arrived mid-morning to set up our home away from home: two bikes each, an air compressor, jet wash, coffee machine, gas heater, microwave, tents, a multitude of spares (tyres, wheels, brake pads and many tools) plus a whole pile of food, lights, batteries and spare kit. Before you know it there was a race briefing and the first riders were being called up.

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As spectators stood in the rain the starting riders were taken down the road to run for a bit, then start the race. Their kit and steeds stood spotless for the last time in 24hrs.  Ryan emerged from the usual start chaos 2nd wheel, with Darren not far behind (5th or 6th) into the first section of trail.

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The rest of us returned to the safety of our well-equipped tent (more of a mobile club house really) to wait for their return.  50 min later Ryan arrived covered head to toe in black mud; his only comment as he shot through transition for another lap was ‘it’s a little greasy’ complete with slip and slide hand gestures.  Darren wasn’t far behind.  Given the conditions Ryan and I had agreed to ride 3hr blocks rather than the usual (and typically faster) lap on, lap off rotation of a pairs race: the rationale being that we each only got wet once, and there was no sitting around getting cold between laps.

Second lap through Ryan let us know his brakes were ruined and I needed to kit up early – out I went to close out the first innings. The conditions were slowly improving and I tried to ride fast while still conserving for the second innings on day two.  The guys encouraged me to just keep ‘cruising’ as we were only 3min down on first place, although it turned out that this was completely wrong and by the end of the first day we had secured a 24min lead over second place.  I got off the bike a little after 6pm and enjoyed a beer someone brought me, all while feeling bad as I patted Darren on the back and he rolled out yet again.

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All afternoon Darren had just been consistently riding and eating; he seemed to have settled into a sensible pace quite well and apart from being filthy was enjoying himself.  We sent him for a shower and new kit while we cleaned up his bike on dusk and prepared it for the night.  It didn’t take long for the rain to start again, and then it rained, and rained, and rained.  When it seemed like the rain might be easing a little, mid-morning, it got foggy instead, and then it rained some more.  Prue’s hourly feeding routing for Darren was pretty simple: a bottle with 4:1 carb and protein, sometimes a gel and always chicken noodle soup.  His bike and body was holding together quite well. I snuck into the tent and climbed into a sleeping bag to try and get a bit of sleep about 10pm; when I heard Darren come in I’d ask through the tent wall if his bike was still going ok (desperately hoping the answer was yes and I could stay tucked in the warm).  After midnight the wind was thrashing the tent with rain and I knew someone needed to clean and tune Darren’s bike as well as probably putting in new brake pads.  At 3am I heard Ryan up and about and felt secretly smug that I was going to be able to stay in my sleeping bag… 2 minutes later, overcome by guilt, I joined Moody and we settled in to support Darren through the rest of the night before we had to resume racing ourselves.

At 6:10am Ryan was allowed back onto track to continue our 12hr race.  I think Ryan felt a bit bad about leaving me to pull a long stint on the first day and despite our strong position he set off like a man on a mission.  A couple of quick laps and he was calling for his spare bike, brakes gone (again).  While he lapped on his single speed I replaced his brakes, and he came back in to grab his first bike for one last lap.  I’d setup skinny mud spike tyres on my Extensa, kitted up with a rain jacket, cap and arm warmers (how often do you race in a jacket zipped right up!) and once Ryan was in slid my way around the course for the final few hours.  Ryan and I ended up finishing 1st in our category by about 40min in the end – a pretty good result for two riders a bit out of form.

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While we raced Darren had started to suffer. Another shower and more clean kit after finishing the night session, as well as a thorough bike clean and pad change made for a slower stop and it’s always hard to keep the same momentum in long races when you start having to take longer breaks.  Some variety in food helped but there is no escaping the fatigue of 20 hours riding for a bloke whose ‘long’ training rides have been 3-4hrs about once a week this year.

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With just three laps to go, we encouraged; then two; and then finally, while I was out on track, the team sent Darren out for his final lap. They told me when I came through for the final transition he wasn’t far up the road and I would catch him soon – it actually took 5 or 6 kilometres to run him down.  Slow on the hills, still enjoying the little zippy sections of single track, Darren was going to defeat his nemesis and finish with the clock past 24hrs.  And he did: 2nd place in Elite in a time which would have won the Masters category outright.  An epic day, and night and day out.

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Deciding to race your bike for 24hrs non-stop is a strange thing I think, and yet despite wobbling like new-born foals off the bike at the finish line everyone talks about the next one – how to go faster, refine their eating strategy and so on.  It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.